It’s Samwise the Stouthearted to the rescue!
He no longer had any doubt about his duty: he must rescue his master or perish in the attempt.
‘The perishing is more likely, and will be a lot easier anyway,’ he said grimly to himself […].
It seems Sam was knocked out for at least a few hours, long enough for a full-blown battle to start and then mostly burn out between the orcs of Cirith Ungol and the orcs of Minas Morgul within the titular tower. But before he can do anything else, he needs to settle with the Ring which he now bears.
No sooner had he come in sight of Mount Doom, burning far away, than he was aware of a change in his burden. As it drew near the great furnaces where, in the deeps of time, it had been shaped and forged, the Ring’s power grew, and it became more fell, untameable save by some mighty will. As Sam stood there, even though the Ring was not on him but hanging by its chain about his neck, he felt himself enlarged, as if he were robed in a huge distorted shadow of himself, a vast and ominous threat halted upon the walls of Mordor. He felt that he had from now on only two choices: to forbear the Ring, though it would torment him; or to claim it, and challenge the Power that sat in its dark hold beyond the valley of shadows. Already the Ring tempted him, gnawing at his will and reason. Wild fantasies arose in his mind; and he saw Samwise the Strong, Hero of the Age, striding with his flaming sword across the darkened land, and armies flocking to his call as he marched to the overthrow of Barad-dûr. And then all the clouds rolled away, and the white sun shone, and at his command the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit. He had only to put on the Ring and claim it for his own, and all this could be.
In that hour of trial it was the love of his master that helped most to hold him firm; but also deep down in him lived still unconquered his plain hobbit-sense: he knew in the core of his heart that he was not large enough to bear such a burden, even if such visions were not a mere cheat to betray him. The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.
He was not really in any doubt. He knew that he must go down to the gate and not linger any more. With a shrug of his shoulders, as if to shake off the shadows and dismiss the phantoms, he began slowly to descend. With each step he seemed to diminish. He had not gone far before he had shrunk again to a very small and frightened hobbit.
This establishes the power and allure of the Ring by showing its effects on someone who’s been carrying it for less than a day, and literally the least ambitious character in the entire cast. It helps to contextualize not just Frodo’s struggle, but all of the characters who have been tempted by the power of the Ring. Even in his wildest dreams, Sam wishes to do good with the Ring – or perhaps that’s part of it’s trick, showing only the good you could do and never what you’d consider “evil”.
Then he comes to the tower’s gate – wide open, but guarded by two “Watchers”, which appear to be statues, but are clearly inhabited by watchful and malevolent spirits of some kind.
Hardening his will Sam thrust forward once again, and halted with a jerk, staggering as if from a blow upon his breast and head. Then greatly daring, because he could think of nothing else to do, answering a sudden thought that came to him, he drew slowly out the phial of Galadriel and held it up. Its white light quickened swiftly, and the shadows under the arch fled. The monstrous Watchers sat there cold and still, revealed in all their hideous shape. For a moment Sam caught a glitter in the black stones of their eyes, the very malice of which made him quail; but slowly he felt their will waver and crumble into fear.
[…] From those evil heads there came a high shrill cry that echoed in the towering walls before him. Far up above, like an answering signal, a harsh bell clanged a single stroke.
‘That’s done it!’ said Sam. ‘Now I’ve rung the front-door bell! Well, come on somebody!’ he cried. ‘Tell Captain Shagrat that the great Elf-warrior has called, with his elf-sword, too!’
He’s surprised to find nobody (alive) around to answer his challenge, but not necessarily pleased.
He advanced down the passage, but slowly now, each step more reluctant. Terror was beginning to grip him again. There was no sound save the rap of his feet, which seemed to grow to an echoing noise, like the slapping of great hands upon the stones. The dead bodies; the emptiness; the dank black walls that in the torchlight seemed to drip with blood; the fear of sudden death lurking in doorway or shadow; and behind all his mind the waiting watchful malice at the gate: it was almost more than he could screw himself to face. He would have welcomed a fight – with not too many enemies at a time – rather than this hideous brooding uncertainty. He forced himself to think of Frodo, lying bound or in pain or dead somewhere in this dreadful place. He went on.
He finally runs into an orc, but it’s scared off by a combination of the elf-sword and the menace of the Ring, so Sam follows it up toward the top of the tower, where he knows they’re keeping Frodo. He makes it to the top without having to kill a single orc – they did all the killing themselves. But then he reaches a dead end.
At last, weary and feeling finally defeated, he sat on a step below the level of the passage-floor and bowed his head into his hands. It was quiet, horribly quiet. The torch, that was already burning low when he arrived, sputtered and went out; and he felt darkness cover him like a tide. And then softly, to his own surprise, there at the vain end of his long journey and his grief, moved by what thought in his heart he could not tell, Sam began to sing.
In western lands beneath the Sun
the flowers may rise in Spring,
the trees may bud, the waters run,
the merry finches sing.
Or there maybe ’tis cloudless night
and swaying beeches bear
the Elven-stars as jewels white
amid their branching hair.
Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars forever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done,
nor bid the Stars farewell.
This is one of my favorite poems in the series, because it captures so perfectly that feeling that keeps me coming back to this story. There is always beauty and goodness beyond the reach of evil; just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
And this song also helps him find Frodo, as seemingly the last orc in the Tower goes to check on Frodo when he tries to respond to Sam’s song, revealing that he’s in a room only accessible by a trap-door in the ceiling. And then the orc tries to whip Mr. Frodo, which needless to say leads to his doom.
‘Frodo! Mr. Frodo, my dear!’ cried Sam, tears almost blinding him. ‘It’s Sam, I’ve come!’ He half lifted his master and hugged him to his breast. Frodo opened his eyes.
‘Am I still dreaming?’ he muttered. ‘But the other dreams were horrible.’
‘You’re not dreaming at all, Master,’ said Sam. ‘It’s real. It’s me. I’ve come.’
They appear to have the place to themselves for a bit, but the Captain at least managed to escape alive, so it’s only a matter of time before reinforcements arrive. Once Frodo is finally able to realize the seriousness of his capture, Sam is able to reveal that they didn’t actually get the Ring.
‘You’ve got it?’ gasped Frodo. ‘You’ve got it here? Sam, you’re a marvel!’ Then quickly and strangely his tone changed. ‘Give it to me!’ he cried, standing up, holding out a trembling hand. ‘Give it me at once! You can’t have it!’
‘All right, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, rather startled. ‘Here it is!’ slowly he drew the Ring out and passed the chain over his head. ‘But you’re in the land of Mordor now, sir; and when you get out, you’ll see the Fiery Mountain and all. You’ll find the Ring very dangerous now, and very hard to bear. If it’s too hard a job, I could share it with you, maybe?’
‘No, no!’ cried Frodo, snatching the Ring and chain from Sam’s hands. ‘No you won’t, you thief!’ He panted, staring at Sam with eyes wide with fear and enmity. Then suddenly, clasping the Ring one clenched fist, he stood aghast. A mist seemed to clear from his eyes, and he passed a hand over his aching brow. The hideous vision had seemed so real to him, half bemused as he was still with wound and fear. Sam had changed before his very eyes into an orc again, leering and pawing at his treasure, a foul little creature with greedy eyes and slobbering mouth. But now the vision had passed. There was Sam kneeling before him, his face wrung with pain, as if he had been stabbed in the heart; tears welled from his eyes.
Sam was somewhat reluctant to give up the Ring – ostensibly to spare Frodo the pain of bearing it, because that’s just the way it gets to his heart. But at this point it would be more painful for Frodo to let someone else carry it…which, you know, is not a great sign. Sam’s job is to keep Mr. Frodo moving towards Mount Doom, and that’s quite enough. Especially since Frodo’s capture means they lost a significant amount of the food from Faramir (the orcs didn’t really bother about the lembas, though), and they haven’t been able to fill up on water since before they reached Minas Morgul.
‘Don’t orcs eat, and don’t they drink? Or do they just live on foul air and poison?’
‘No, they eat and drink, Sam. The Shadow that bred them can only mock, it cannot make: not real new things of its own. I don’t think it gave life to the orcs, it only ruined them and twisted them; if they are to live at all, they have to live like other creatures.’
Their most immediate concern is water, but at least they can assume that there’s drinkable water somewhere in Mordor. Sam finds them some orc-gear to wear since the orcs kind of took Frodo’s clothes (I do not blame the films for letting Elijah Wood keep his pants), and he figures they should probably match when they’re walking around in Mordor.
Then they’re on their way out the door…but of course the Watchers are still there, and evidently angry that Sam got in to begin with. He takes out the star-glass again, and with a few choice Elvish words (like the name of Elbereth), they break through.
The will of the Watchers was broken with a suddenness like the snapping of a cord, and Frodo and Sam stumbled forward. Then they ran. Through the gate and past the great seated figures with their glittering eyes. There was a crack. The keystone of the arch crashed almost on their heels, and the wall above crumbled, and fell into ruin. Only by a hair did they escape. A bell clanged; and from the Watchers there went up a high and dreadful wail. Far up above in the darkness it was answered. Out of the black sky there came dropping like a bolt a winged shape, rending the clouds with a ghastly shriek.
Next time: The Land of Shadow…